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Silk Road operators developed a taste for murder

Joab Jackson | Feb. 3, 2015
Silk Road administrators may have had five swindlers murdered, or they may have been duped by con artists themselves.

Chat logs and other digital records entered into evidence in a federal court case Monday detailed how the operators of the infamous Silk Road underground online marketplace planned to have individuals murdered for potentially disclosing the identities of those who used the anonymous site.

Over the course of March and April 2013, an individual operating under the Silk Road administrator account Dread Pirate Roberts had paid an individual, or group of individuals, approximately $650,000 worth of bitcoins to carry out as many as five murders, digital records indicated.

Whether any of these murders were actually carried out remains a mystery. Police have never been able to find any bodies that matched the details of the supposed murders, nor have they found any records of the supposed real names of the people the contract killers claimed to have killed. The defendant in the case, Ross Ulbricht, does not face murder conspiracy charges in the current case in New York.

The prosecution's case seeks to prove that Ulbricht operated Silk Road using the Dread Pirate Roberts account. Ulbricht is charged with narcotics conspiracy, engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, conspiracy to commit computer hacking and money laundering. The narcotics and criminal enterprise charges carry maximum penalties of life in prison. Ulbricht has pleaded not guilty to all charges. Ulbricht's defense lawyer, Joshua Dratel, argues that Ulbricht handed off the site to other operators shortly after he started it in 2011, and that he rejoined immediately prior to his arrest, lured back in by the new operators to serve as a fall guy.

As their last witness, federal prosecutors brought to the stand Federal Bureau of Investigation contractor Brian Shaw, who analyzed the Silk Road servers seized by the government and the laptop computer Ulbricht was using was he was arrested.

Through chat logs and diary entries found on Ulbricht's computer, prosecutors detailed how someone, under the name of Dread Pirate Roberts, had commissioned two sets of hits, or murders-for-hire, from someone claiming to be from the Hell's Angels motorcycle club.

The first hit was taken out on an individual with the Silk Road user name FriendlyChemist. FriendlyChemist had approached Dread Pirate Roberts online in March 2013 demanding US$500,000 within 72 hours, or else he would reveal the real identities of 5,000 Silk Road users. As a sort of eBay for illegal goods, Silk Road matched buyers and sellers and ensured that their identities would remain hidden, so such a breach would be devastating to the site.

FriendlyChemist claimed he needed the money to pay off the Hell's Angels, from whom, he said, he and a partner had purchased $750,000 worth of acid, a synthesized hallucinogen, to sell on Silk Road. FriendlyChemist's partner, reallucydrop, had taken off with the drugs without paying the Hell's Angels the full amount, and now the Angels were holding FriendlyChemist responsible. FriendlyChemist explained to Dread Pirate Roberts that extorting funds from Silk Road was how he would repay the drug dealers.


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